Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are terms that are now thrown around as often as the British talk about the weather to greet each other. For the past 10 years, AR and VR have been mostly used as buzzwords, and it is only now that we are starting to see the widespread adoption of these technologies. But what is the difference between them? How is AR being used in healthcare? And what can AR do for you?
AR overlays digital information onto the real-world using displays, cameras, and sensors. VR is an immersive experience in a simulated world . AR essentially enhances the real-world, whereas VR creates an entirely new world . Over the last few years, advances in camera and sensor technology and AR-focused software research have made it a much more viable and practical solution, and we have since seen a dramatic rise in the use of AR technology in healthcare .
AR has the capability to enhance and improve the learning experience for students at medical school. It is necessary for healthcare workers to learn a huge amount of information about human anatomy and its associated functions. AR helps students visualise and even interact with 3D representations of human anatomy . Researchers at Johns Hopkins University took on an AR project whereby an AR tool displays an internal view of the body on top of a student’s physique. Students could also interact with the AR representation through the tool’s gesture-sensitive user interface .
AR has also proved to be a useful tool for healthcare professionals while educating their patients. For example, prior to surgeries, a patient can be shown a digitised version of their brain or any other organ, the problem that needs attention can be highlighted, as well as how the surgeon will fix it, all in an easy to understand and personalised visualisation . In addition to this, an application of AR has been making the everyday procedure of blood tests more pleasant for everyone involved. Many patients find injections and blood tests uncomfortable, and the experience is no doubt worsened when a healthcare professional is struggling to find their vein and so needs to try several times. Vein visualisation using AccuVein is in use in hospitals today and projects a map of patients’ veins onto their skin, streamlining the process of finding veins for healthcare professionals, and preventing multiple attempts, which makes the patient’s experience more comfortable, too .
AR also has powerful applications in operating theatres. Even the most experienced surgeons encounter anomalies and surprises during operations, but AR may be able to help reduce the incidences of these events . 3D digital representations can be projected into a surgeon’s field of view during surgeries and are likely to help improve accuracy during operations and better outcomes for patients as a result . Companies like Augmedics are facilitating this. Xvision is the first AR guidance system for surgery. Surgeons can put on a VR headset and the technology adds a 3D representation which allows them to see the patient’s anatomy through skin and tissue as if they had X-ray vision. During testing, surgeons placed spinal screws in cadavers with VR headsets on and the accuracy rate was 98.9% . After the headsets were FDA cleared, they started being distributed at the start of this year, and Augmedics plan to move into uses beyond spinal surgeries in the future . In terms of advancing training to prepare for the operating theatre, FundamentalVR offers flight simulator-like training for surgeons. The technology allows them to rehearse, practice, and improve surgical techniques in a controlled environment that includes haptic elements for tactile feedback [2,5].
These are just a few of the exciting applications being adopted in healthcare today, and we look forward to seeing what other innovative technologies are on the horizon.
 HealthManagement. 2020. The Future Of Augmented Reality In Healthcare. [online] Available at: <https://healthmanagement.org/c/healthmanagement/issuearticle/the-future-of-augmented-reality-in-healthcare#:~:text=Augmented%20reality%20is%20used%20in,experience%20for%20users%20and%20developers> [Accessed 23 October 2020].
 Parmar, A., Baum, S., DeArment, A. and Reuter, E., 2020. The Benefits Of AR In Healthcare – Medcity News. [online] MedCity News. Available at: <https://medcitynews.com/2019/09/the-benefits-of-ar-in-healthcare/?rf=1> [Accessed 22 October 2020].
 AccuVein. 2020. Accuvein Vein Visualization-Improves IV 1-Stick Success 3.5X. [online] Available at: <https://www.accuvein.com/> [Accessed 23 October 2020].
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 PLATFORM, T., PLATFORM, T. and Feature, F., 2020. FUNDAMENTAL SURGERY – The Virtual Reality Surgical Simulator. [online] Fundamental Surgery. Available at: <https://fundamentalsurgery.com/> [Accessed 23 October 2020].